The US sanctions policy – a new normal

“The end justifies the means”

Old proverb

As stated above, the most important legislative issue has been the new law: Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). During the unipolarity period of 1990-2018, The United States has imposed an extensive range of different punitive measures against numerous states and other international actors. 

The general list of those punitive measures, 1990-2018, can be categorized with target actors in the following way:

  • large scale punitive measures against: China, Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Russia and Venezuela
  • small scale or selective punitive measures against: Afghanistan, Belarus, Burundi, Canada (retaliatory tariffs), Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Haiti, India (retaliatory tariffs), Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Liberia, Mexico (retaliatory tariffs), Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey, Yemen, Zimbabwe, EU (retaliatory tariffs)
  • specific punitive threats against: India (S-400 purchase from Russia and nuclear cooperation, Iranian oil), Saudi Arabia (Khashoggi case), Sri Lanka (Iranian oil), EU (Iran trade, Russian energy), Japan (retaliatory tariffs)
  • specific punitive actions or threats against international organizations: The United Nations and some of its body organizations, WTO, SWIFT, ICC

It seems that the threshold to use sanctions has lowered during the period of 1990-2018 and became “a new normal” in the relationship between the US versus other countries.

Adding together the number of people in those countries under the US punishment, makes a total of 3,8 billion people without EU and if that is included, the total number is 4,3 billion people. While the world population is up to 7,5 billion this means that the US has targeted punitive/ retaliatory measures for nearly 60% of world total population. As to this position of the US, being at odds with the majority of the mankind is not necessary a particular promising sign for the future.

Many countries, including China, Canada, European Union, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia and Turkey, have replied to the US measures by their own counter-retaliation acts, according to tit-for-tat responds.

In the November 2018 Summit of G-20 in Argentine, the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) had their own meeting in the sidelines of the Summit. This group, representing 3,2 billion people, or about half of the total world population, called unanimously for cancellation of all unilaterally imposed punitive trade measures by the US, because they negatively impact on global development and distort the world trade.

A special feature of the US imposed sanctions is the so-called secondary sanction or sanction for the violation of the sanctions.  In 2018, the US Department of the Treasury announced a settlement of claims against four companies totaling $60.8 million. The number of companies and the amount of the fines are small compared with previous years. In 2017, 16 cases were settled for a total amount of $119.5 million, while, for example, in 2014, there were 22 cases worth $1.205 billion. Moreover, each case can include claims that had accumulated over a long period of time.